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Avaya adds AI voice assistant to desk phones

Avaya has created an AI voice assistant application for desk phones. AI voice assistant platforms could make mundane tasks easier for office workers.

With the release of a voice assistant for desk phones, Avaya is the latest unified communications vendor to explore whether the artificial intelligence technology increasingly popular among consumers has value in the enterprise market.

The voice assistant, available for download in the Google Play Store, lets users verbally command their Avaya Vantage phones to make calls, dial into the next meeting on a calendar, and execute Google searches. People activate the artificial intelligence (AI) technology with a customizable trigger phrase; the default is "Hello Vantage."

"Avaya is engaging in far-field voice activation at an inflection point in the industry: Voice assistants will disrupt enterprise communications and UC," Gartner analyst Werner Goertz said. "In future, rather than to dial into meetings and conference calls, we will simply say 'Assistant, dial me into my 10 o'clock meeting' -- no user IDs, passwords, conference IDs that the user needs to remember."

Avaya's desk phone app arrives a couple of months after Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Cisco introduced their own AI voice assistant platforms to the enterprise market. Cisco announced plans to add a voice assistant to its Spark whiteboard devices, while AWS unveiled Alexa for Business, which integrates Amazon Echo devices with unified communications systems and business applications.  

Amazon and Microsoft also recently announced a partnership to enable communication between Alexa and Cortana devices. The latter is perhaps the most widely used voice assistant in the workplace today given its integration with Office 365 and Windows 10. But the two companies have yet to follow through on that initiative.

AI voice assistants poised to grow in the enterprise market

Vendors like Avaya and Cisco will likely look to expand the range of tasks their voice assistants can execute and embed the technology in more of their UC applications, said Brent Kelly, principal analyst at KelCor Inc., based in North Logan, Utah.

"I have not seen other desk phone technology like this," Kelly said of Voice Assistant for Avaya Vantage. "Is it revolutionary? No. Is it evolutionary? I would say, yeah, it's going to be a nice feature."

A fall 2017 Gartner study predicted that enterprise adoption of AI voice assistant devices would accelerate starting in 2019, with the hospitality and healthcare industries among the earliest adopters. End-user spending on the devices -- driven mostly by consumers -- will reach $3.52 billion in 2021, up from $720 million in 2016, the firm forecasted.

"Inspired by the growing market of consumer-based voice assistants, artificial intelligence is finally starting to fulfill the promise of smarter communications and collaboration in the business space," said Mohamed Alaa Saayed, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, based in Santa Clara, Calif.

So far, AI voice assistant platforms designed for the enterprise have primarily targeted meeting room devices. But Saayed predicts the technology will eventually integrate with other collaboration tools and IP multimedia phones.

Misconception about voice assistants fuels privacy concerns

Sensory Inc., a private speech software company based in Santa Clara, Calif., worked with Avaya to add trigger-word activation to the vendor's voice assistant. The feature ensures that Vantage desk phones only listen after being activated by a trigger phrase.

"This capability is important for privacy reasons: A trigger word can activate a personal voice assistant so that it doesn't have to capture everything that is being said," Goertz said. "Erroneously, many users still believe that the voice assistant is 'always on,' listening to and potentially monetizing every conversation. Especially in the enterprise, this privacy level is an important consideration."

The 2017 Gartner report cited the false belief that AI voice assistant devices might record private office conversations as an obstacle to enterprise deployment. But the firm predicted that educational campaigns, peer adoption and regulatory approvals would almost wholly dispel concerns in the enterprise market by 2020.

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